On my dad's side, go back far enough and my family were Samurai. Until the Meiji Restoration when the caste of military nobles was abolished in favour of a more Western professional army, my family would follow the order's code of conduct, Bushido, wear swords in public, and be allowed to summarily execute anyone who showed them or the Emperor disrespect. Talk about perks of the job!
After the Restoration, they were wealthy landowners in the Nara area and pioneered the goldfish trade. During the Edo period, we were the first to import ornamental fish from China and breed them for commercial export to the rest of the world. Even today, my dad's home town is known for the goldfish farms which are scattered all over the town's extent. The municipal symbol is the goldfish.
Scandal and ruin hit my family somewhere down the line and one of my ancestors lost everything, selling off the business, the landholdings. We became "normal" citizens of the new Japan. Many of my family became workers in the new industry that came to the area - textiles became extablished in the late 19th Century alongside the goldfish business as one of the area's main income generators.
Now, just two of my dad's siblings remain in the suburbs of Yamato-Koriyama, the old family town, living in small houses opposite each other on a residential street that leads from the local railway station to the commercial centre.
When I was small the street was a single, dusty thoroughfare flanked by deep storm drains, with paddy fields extending as far as you could see on one side, hills rolling away on the other. Every time I went back, more fields and open spaces would disappear, as houses and streets started to claim their place. Now our once single street is just one in a large residential sprawl.
Other progress has come to the town. Modern sewerage was installed in the 80s. Until then, everyone used to pee and shit in cespits. The vacuum truck would vist on a Monday to suck away the waste from the septic tanks. When I was tiny I lost my favourite pink teddy bear in the cesspit. I remember looking down the hole, crying at the bear looking up at me.
I enjoy visiting my home town. Despite its growth over the years, it remains a small town, with a remote, parochial outlook and branch line mentality.
It's almost hard to believe it was once the centre of local power, though the castle on the hill at the centre of the town stands high and proud as testament to that. However, it's now just a small, bustling town that seems a little crystallised in its historic past. But I like that. My mother's family are from right in the middle of Tokyo, so this is a nice contrast to that madness.
i must visit again soon. The uncles and aunts are becoming elderly. Many of their children have moved away to the cities and soon the opportunity to visit as a resident might be gone forever.
Originally written 12 December 2006 on draGnet 4.0.
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